Muslim groups nervous about King hearings

“The leadership of the community is not geared to cooperation,” Peter King says. |
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By BEN SMITH & BYRON TAU | 1/18/11 6:12 PM EST
American Muslim leaders, who have struggled to present a clear public voice or organize politically in the decade since Sept. 11, are increasingly apprehensive about the direction Rep. Pete King will take when he convenes hearings next month on the threat posed by radical Islam in America.

King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, plans to focus on the Times Square bombing attempt and the Fort Hood shooting, both involving American-born Muslims, as well as other incidents and on what he sees as the failure of Muslim leadership to combat extremism.

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King has been critical of the Obama administration for failing to take the threat of domestic terrorism seriously and has been sparring with Muslim leaders since soon after Sept. 11 for not taking their own steps to combat it.

“The leadership of the community is not geared to cooperation,” King told POLITICO.

His upcoming hearings have caused deep concern and consternation among various Arab and Muslim advocacy groups across the country that fear King’s witness list will help define, for the purposes of the American public conversation, which Muslim leaders are legitimate and which should be regarded as extremists.

“You can definitely say overall the hearings are seen with great apprehension, suspicion and distaste — sometimes sorrow,” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an expert on Islam and Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “These hearings have a history of stigmatizing whole groups of people.”

King insists that the goal of his hearings is not to stigmatize Muslims but to confront the threat of homegrown terrorism and to explore the role of Muslim leaders in dealing with it.

“This isn’t a question of scoring points,” said King. “It’s the fact that there’s a real threat coming from this attempted radicalization of the community and it’s, in many ways, coming from overseas.”

In a move that will come as a relief to Muslim leaders, King told POLITICO that he’s not planning to call as witnesses such Muslim community critics as the Investigative Project on Terrorism’s Steve Emerson and Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer, who have large followings among conservatives but are viewed as antagonists by many Muslims.

King aims, he said, to call retired law enforcement officials and people with “the real life experience of coming from the Muslim community.” Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in the House and a critic of the hearings, will likely be a minority witness, according to both King and the Minnesota Democrat.

The focus, King said, will be on — among other topics — reported complaints from Somali Muslims that the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other groups discouraged them from talking to the authorities about young men who left to fight for the Islamist cause in Somalia and on cases like that of the imam who — while ostensibly cooperating with the FBI — allegedly tipped off a would-be subway bomber off as investigators closed in.

Muslim leaders respond that American Muslims have been key to an array of terror investigations, beginning with the Muslim street vendor who first noticed the smoking car in Times Square.

“I hope my colleague from New York …. does not make the mistake of trying to paint all Muslims with a broad, extremist brush,” Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), the other Muslim in Congress, said in an e-mail to POLITICO. “Because for one, that’s not an accurate depiction of the millions of peace-loving Muslims, and two, our national security depends on us forging strong partnerships with people across the Muslim world.”

Possible witnesses, according to King, include Dutch critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali and M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of Arizona-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser is a sharp critic of leading American Muslim groups, whose agenda he calls “Islamist.”

Read more about:Barack Obama, Muslims, Islam, Peter King, Sept. 11, Fort Hood, Times Square Bomber, House Homeland Security Committee

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